Holiday Traditions and Eating Disorder Rituals

Making the word of God of none effect through your tradition, which ye have delivered: and many such like things do ye. Mark 7:13

The holiday season is all about traditions. Families build their own, everything from the food to the decorations to the outings.

Traditions can be wonderful. However, seen through the prism of eating disorder rituals, they can be imprisoning.

"Rituals are both a tactic not to eat and also a piece of obsessionality associated with anorexia. When eating disorders are starting, people will try to make it look like they are eating by cutting things up and shifting food around on the plate so as to not draw attention to how little they are eating." Cynthia Bulik, PhD, eating disorder specialist at the University of North Carolina- Chapel Hill

Traditions, rituals - it all represents the same unrealistic expectation: perfection, happiness and a sense of safety.

These rituals can be anything such as counting to a specific number how many times one chews his/her food before swallowing, meticulously counting calories or eating from the same bowl and spoon. There’s an exacting precision attached to keeping these behaviors - and a dreadful fear if one is unable to do so.

It certainly doesn’t make the holiday season very joyful. And God has desired abundance for us:

…I am come that they might have life, and that they might have it more abundantly. John 10:10

Furthermore, God has given us freedom to choose:

All things are lawful for me, but all things are not expedient: all things are lawful for me, but all things edify not. 1 Corinthians 10:23

All things are lawful unto me, but all things are not expedient: all things are lawful for me, but I will not be brought under the power of any. 1 Corinthians 6:12

For someone struggling with disordered eating, however, that’s easier read than lived.

Yet, if we face our own truth about why we do what we do, fully aware of perfection’s demanding and impossible nature, we can ease up on ourselves and be fully present with the holidays as they occur.

It may be helpful to realize that the "picture-book" holiday sense is not a reality for many people. Some cannot afford it, there are many single people who are not close to their families or do not have a family, and there are many families that do not fit into the dominant cultural model of "family". Do not blame yourself for family or friendship conflicts. People are not different during the holidays than any other time of the year. Remember that you are responsible only for your own actions and for taking care of yourself.
NEDIC Bulletin: Vol. 7, Coping With the Holidays
National Eating Disorder Information Centre (NEDIC)
Used with permission

And that’s more powerful and life-giving than any ritual!

Copyright by Sheryle Cruse.
All rights reserved. Used by permission.
Sheryle is the author of
Thin Enough: My Spiritual Journey Through the Living Death of an Eating Disorder.
Visit her web site:

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